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Managing for Endowment Portfolio Alpha

Understanding Non-Systematic Return on Investment

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www.CertifiedMedicalPlanner.org

DEM 2013

[By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA]

According to Wayne Firebaugh CPA, CFP®, CMP™ alpha measures non-systematic return on investment [ROI], or the return that cannot be attributed to the market.

It shows the difference between a fund’s actual return and its expected performance given the level of systematic (or market) risk (as measured by beta).

Example

For example, a fund with a beta of 1.2 in a market that returns 10% would be expected to earn 12%. If, in fact, the fund earns a return of 14%, it then has an alpha of 2 which would suggest that the manager has added value. Conversely, a return below that expected given the fund’s beta would suggest that the manager diminished value.

In a truly efficient market, no manager should be able to consistently generate positive alpha. In such a market, the endowment manager would likely employ a passive strategy that seeks to replicate index returns. Although there is substantial evidence of efficient domestic markets, there is also evidence to suggest that certain managers do repeat their positive alpha performance.

In fact, a 2002 study by Roger Ibbotson and Amita Patel found that “the phenomenon of persistence does exist in domestic equity funds.” The same study suggested that 65% of mutual funds with the highest style-adjusted alpha repeated with positive alpha performances in the following year.

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More Research

Additional research suggests that active management can add value and achieve positive alpha in concentrated portfolios.

A pre 2008 crash study of actively managed mutual funds found that “on average, higher industry concentration improves the performance of the funds. The most concentrated funds generate, after adjusting for risk … the highest performance. They yield an average abnormal return [alpha] of 2.56% per year before deducting expenses and 1.12% per year after deducting expenses.”

FutureMetrics

FutureMetrics, a pension plan consulting firm, calculated that in 2006 the median pension fund achieved record alpha of 3.7% compared to a 60/40 benchmark portfolio, the best since the firm began calculating return data in 1988. Over longer periods of time, an endowment manager’s ability to achieve positive alpha for their entire portfolio is more hotly debated.  Dimensional Fund Advisors, a mutual fund firm specializing in a unique form of passive management, compiled FutureMetrics data on 192 pension funds for the period of 1988 through 2005.

Their research showed that over this period of time approximately 75% of the pension funds underperformed the 60/40 benchmark. The end result is that many endowments will use a combination of active and passive management approaches with respect to some portion of the domestic equity segment of their allocation.

Assessment

One approach is known as the “core and satellite” method in which a “core” investment into a passive index is used to capture the broader market’s performance while concentrated satellite positions are taken in an attempt to “capture” alpha. Since other asset classes such as private equity, foreign equity, and real assets are often viewed to be less efficient, the endowment manager will typically use active management to obtain positive alpha from these segments.

Notes:

  • Ibbotson, R.G. and Patel, A.K. Do Winners Repeat with Style? Summary of Findings – Ibbotson & Associates, Chicago (February 2002).
  • Kacperczyk, M.T., Sialm, C., and Lu Zheng. On Industry Concentration of Actively Managed Equity Mutual Funds. University of Michigan Business School. (November 2002).
  • 2007 Annual US Corporate Pension Plan Best and Worst Investment Performance Report.  FutureMetrics, April 20, 2007.

Conclusion

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